Why Every Wine Lover Needs to Visit Portugal’s Douro Valley
What to drink, eat and where to stay in the birthplace of port
At this point, Champagne and Tuscany need no introduction. Thirsty for a wine tourism destination in Europe without droves of tourists? Set along its namesake river in northern Portugal, Douro Valley — the birthplace of port — grows more than 80 different native grape varieties and is an unparalleled spot to soak in the country’s rich winemaking heritage and, of course, sip world-class wine. On the scenic side of things, it’s overflowing with verdant vineyards and historic quintas (wine estates) atop rolling hills. Despite proximity to Porto, the area retains a hidden gem sort of sensibility — which is a nice change of pace from the crowds and Disneyland-like attractions that have sprung up in some popular domestic viticulture regions. There are enchanting hotels to relax and recover in between tastings. Sure, that might include sipping a Porto Tónico or two on a sun-splashed balcony overlooking the river.
It’s impossible for wine lovers to have anything short of a fantastic experience in Douro Valley with all the incredible vinho available. But if you want a few pointers on how to plan the ultimate palate-pleasing trip, scroll on for my top picks.
How to Get There
Douro Valley sits just 90 minutes away from Portugal’s second-largest city. There’s a train that runs between the two destinations and it’s a very beautiful ride, not to mention the tickets aren’t expensive. The alternative would be to take a car. It’s a bit pricier but then you have the benefit of a designated driver to whisk you to the various quintas. A lot of people choose to take the guesswork out of things by just booking an organized group tour. All of this to say: it’s a totally doable day from Porto. (Though, I would recommend staying for the weekend.)
Where to Drink
Douro Valley, not surprisingly, remains best known as the source of port. When tasting fortified wine, I find it best (and this came as a directive from local experts) to start with the fruitiness of a young ruby and then move on to barrel-aged tawny. Though, you could totally do a side-by-side tasting to find your favorite at Quinta das Carvalhas and Quinta de La Rosa. Fans of rich maple and raisin notes should beeline it over to Quinta do Bomfim for a late bottled vintage (LBV). The oldest port house still operating in Portugal, Quinta da Roêda — which happens to be a dreamy setting for a riverside picnic — continues to innovate. Most recently, the storied stalwart launched Croft Pink, the first ever rosé port.
Besides fortified wine, Douro Valley’s cup runneth over with terroir-driven reds and crisp, refreshing whites. Don’t pass up the chance to sample Touriga Nacional or a wonderfully complex blend of Viosinho and Moscatel Galego Branco at Quinta da Pacheca. I would also highly encourage stopping by Quinta de São Bernardo.
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Where to Eat
The top-notch culinary scene easily competes with larger, headline-making destinations. The fertile countryside supplies an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs that take center stage on menus across the region. Cozinha da Clara is a lovely spot to enjoy Trás-os-Montes cuisine made with produce grown in the garden. A beautiful waterfront location, glass-fronted dining room and contemporary Portuguese cuisine make DOC an excellent choice for celebrating a special occasion or, in our case, date night. Castas e Pratos delights patrons with its Michelin-starred fare and impressive wine selection. Vale De Abraão invites diners to relish the intimate ambiance of the dining room or an outdoor table with spellbinding vistas.
What Else to Do
Yes, the main draw is wine — there’s plenty of it to fill up an entire week-long itinerary — but Douro Valley offers plenty of non-alcoholic pleasures as well. Access to the highest-flow river of the Iberian Peninsula means rafting, tubing and riding on traditional rabelo boats. The region also presents ample opportunities for leisurely vineyard walks, horseback riding, ATV tours and hiking. For a pampering afternoon, book a massage, facial or body ritual at one of the swish hotel spas. I’m partial to the Six Senses Douro Valley because of its next-level facilities — including an infrared sauna, heated indoor pool with underwater sound therapy and steam room — and nature-inspired treatment menu. Wellness seekers can even learn how to craft custom products using locally sourced, organic ingredients at the alchemy bar.
Where to Stay
Having found the majority of Portugal to be quite reasonably priced, we decided to splurge on the Six Senses Douro Valley. The ideal choice for a romantic getaway, honeymoon or just a luxurious holiday to remember, the hotel occupies a 19th-century manor house that got a major modern upgrade and overlooks vine-covered hills. But it’s the unique vinho experiences that really sealed the deal for us. Beyond daily tastings led by trained sommeliers in the wine library, the concierge will happily organize excursions like helicopter trips to remote producers, cellar tours and VIP visits to quintas that aren’t open to the public. Without question, the Six Senses Douro Valley delivers a magical experience. And it’s true that we never wanted to leave. But let me put your mind (and wallet) at ease by saying that travelers definitely don’t have to shell out upwards of $750 a night for a memorable stay. The area is full of character-rich accommodations that are sophisticated and shockingly somehow still affordable — namely Quinta dos Murças and Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo, a member of Relais & Chateaux. Douro41 Hotel & Spa turns on the contemporary charisma as it appears to float above the banks of the river, which gives off a very fetching first impression. Floor-to-ceiling windows, panoramic terraces and outdoor infinity pools put the striking views at the forefront throughout the property — and provide some pretty stunning viewpoints to sip local wine. Beloved by spa enthusiasts, the wellness space takes a similarly minimal approach to design and shines a spotlight on nature through its many restorative rituals.
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